While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Finals spots on the line as Panthers and Cowboys battle
The Panthers were able to finally break into the Top Eight last week after they scored two late tries to down the Tigers 28-14. However, while their Western Sydney rivals were certainly brave in defeat, Penrith face an immediate step up in class this week when they prepare for Paul Green's Cowboys. Anthony Griffin's men will be well aware of this seeing that in their last meeting North Queensland defeated Penrith 14-12 despite learning earlier in that week that they would be without inspirational skipper Jonathan Thurston for the rest of the year. Interestingly, despite their poor start to the season, if Penrith are able to continue their late-season charge on Saturday night they will overtake the Cowboys, who currently sit just one win above the Panthers but have an inferior points differential.
Fortunately for the home side, they may welcome back five-eighth Matt Moylan for this week's clash with the skipper named on the extended bench. His composure in attack would be a significant boost for a Penrith side who still lack execution in attack, particularly close to the opposition's line.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys were valiant in defeat last week against the Storm. Paul Green's side fell to a 26-8 loss to the ladder leaders yet the final score line can be reconciled given that the Cowboys suffered five separate injuries throughout the full eighty minutes. Unfortunately, the injuries to Gavin Cooper and Antonio Winterstein have ruled the pair out of this Saturday night's game with Coen Hess and Javid Bowen named in their place. Additionally, Scott Bolton, John Asiata and Te Maire Martin are all in doubt, with the latter set to come up against his former club if he overcomes a knee complaint.
Victory this week is crucial for the North Queensland side's finals ambitions given that they then have to face the Sharks, improving Tigers and Broncos in the final three rounds of the season.
A flying Kyle Feldt broke Penrith's hearts in the 78th minute as the Cowboys prevailed in a thriller 14-12 in Round 16 earlier this year.
Who to watch: For the home side, the energetic Tyrone Peachey was highly impressive against the Tigers last week and could prove the creative spark that the Panthers need to break a resilient Cowboys side. Peachey crossed for a try, ran for 199 metres and busted eight tackles in a performance likely to keep Kiwi International centre Dean Whare out of first grade for another week. In their last meeting, it was the Cowboys' defence that proved to be too strong. Therefore, Peachey's unpredictability is an important asset to have for the home side.
Jake Granville starred for the Cowboys in a losing outfit last week against Melbourne and will play a pivotal role on Saturday night if North Queensland are to prevail. Granville scored a try and broke the line once in a strong performance and his running game will be a key area of concern for Penrith seeing that his quick service from dummy-half directly influences the impact that big men such as Jason Taumalolo and Coen Hess have.
My tip: There is no doubt that the Cowboys will make this tough for the home side, no matter who is missing, given their resolute defence. Therefore, if Penrith can remain patient in attack and build pressure rather than resorting to their typical offload-happy football, a crucial win may eventuate. However, if they are impatient, the professionalism of the Cowboys may just prove the difference. This is almost too hard to call but the home ground advantage is all that separates the two sides. If Matt Moylan plays, put me down for him to kick the match-winning field goal. Penrith by 1.
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 18. Matt Moylan 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 16. Tim Browne 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Moses Leota 6. Tyrone May 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 15. Bryce Cartwright 17. James Fisher-Harris
1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Javid Bowen 14. Ben Hampton 7. Michael Morgan 15. Shaun Fensom 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Coen Hess 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 8. John Asiata 16. Corey Jensen 17. Sam Hoare 20. Patrick Mago